Solid state disk (SSD) drive technology is rapidly gaining acceptance for high-end data storage applications because of the many performance benefits it offers enterprise users compared to conventional hard disk drive options.
SSDs combine hardware and software technologies to place data closer to processing, resulting in dramatic improvements in efficiency. From a technical standpoint, SSDs are persistent flash memory devices that connect directly into computer server’s PCIe bus architecture, providing direct memory access – and thus increased performance, writes John Hope-Bailie, technical director of Demand Data.
One of the first companies to develop commercial applications of SSDs was Fusion-io. Its architecture allows flash memory to be viewed as a seamless extension of server-based random access memory (RAM), as opposed to the traditional use of flash memory as a device that emulates a mechanical disk drive.
The Fusion-io implementation results in significantly lower latency and higher throughput, even compared to traditional SSDs.
The move towards greater acceptance of SSDs can be traced back to 2004. Since then, the significant uptake of these and other consumer devices using SSDs led to dramatic price reductions of flash memory and the widespread replacement of spinning disk drives in lower capacity mobile consumer devices.
Taking the concept to the next level, Fusion-io determined that flash technology should not be limited to disk emulation, but should rather be applied to extend server-class memory (RAM memory) combining the persistence of traditional disk drives with a lower cost class of main memory.
Its pioneering development centres on the fact that its SSD plugs directly into a PCIe slot, providing direct memory access. Moreover, the company’s architecture allows the flash memory to be used seamlessly, for the first time delivering persistent storage on the processor side of the channel.
Because this architecture represents an extension of memory, it is a directly accessible resource that eliminates the protocol overheads needed to address external drives – including external solid state drives.
This innovation removes the constraints by the mechanics of disk drives and their cumbersome overheads on the amount of data that can be read or written by end-users.
Significantly, it enables a 100-fold increase in the data available to a user while lowering power consumption substantially.
A typical use of Fusion-io SSD technology is to remove database constraints in scalable applications often found in real-time Web and new media sites. Traditionally, social media sites such as Facebook and Myspace added more memory and disk resources when faced with performance problems.
These solutions only deliver marginal gains. Fusion-io’s SSD technologies, on the other hand, eliminate database bottlenecks and permit a more seamless scaling of resources. To users of these services, this means orders of magnitude more data available at their fingertips.
In the near future, rather than continuously evolving system architectures in an incremental fashion – with faster buses, more memory, additional high speed spinning disks – users will simply adopt flash drives as memory extenders.
Looking to the future, there is every chance that SSDs will become the de facto standard for all computer systems – from tablet PCs to mainframe servers and everything in between. A clear instance of this trend is the popularity of the latest Apple iPad2 and other new-generation tablet devices which will drive the technology forward.